Working in Retail Taught Me What Kind of Person I Am
And what kind of person I am not
I learned a lot about myself after taking what should have been a very promising position for me as a beauty consultant for a large department store chain. I learned very quickly that I’m not cut out for retail.
Be a shark!
There’s a certain shark-y-ness that was expected of me. This was certainly not a part of my job description or a part of the interviewing process. Apparently, I was required to circle customers and move in for the kill. I learned very quickly that this was not my nature at all. I found it hard to approach them, inflict sales pitches on them, and much preferred for them to come to my smiling and helpful spirit — and to help them with whatever issues and needs they had.
We were given quotas for the day that we had to meet and these changed from day to day. Sometimes my quotas would be $1,000! Now, I don’t know about you, but to sell $1,000 worth of cosmetics in one day was certainly outside of my wheelhouse of comfort. We were expected to grab a customer talk to them about their needs and then up sell them in the hundreds of dollars.
It was all about the numbers.
And it didn’t matter whether the customer needed the product or not we had to push and complete that sale. I was working with a manager at my counter who was the top saleswoman for all of Florida. Part of the reason she had this title was because of her sneaky dealings with customers. She would insert herself into my conversation, take over the customer and then complete the sale for herself. (She would also have her friends come to our counter and return all of the products that they had bought elsewhere in the store and re-ring them up under her name so that she could steal those sales.)
Public shaming was a tactic used to drive sales.
Ethics had no place in this retail environment. One fun thing that we had to do at work was participate in shaming events. A poster was put up in the back room with all of our names on it and if someone did not make their sales quota for the day we were expected to go to the poster and draw a sad face beside our name. It was my manager’s job to walk me to this poster and ensure that I drew the sad face next to my name. She explained the whole process with a smile on her face — like it was a fun game.
Being a college-educated woman and a person with self-respect, I refused to do this. Thankfully, my manager did not press the issue. (She simply drew the sad faces next to my name for me when I left work.)
I am not a shark — I am a teacher; a helper.
I learned very quickly through this position that I am a teacher and not a salesperson. I wanted to teach people how to take care of their skin and how to apply their makeup. I enjoyed working with customers and enjoyed completing the sales if they left happy. But in the retail environment, as fast-paced and cutthroat as it was, there was no time for this type of service.
No emotions, please.
One afternoon the overwhelming pressure that I was feeling became a bit too much and I must admit I shed a few tears while talking to my manager. From that point on I was made fun of for being weak. I was told I was not cut out for this kind of work and that I really should just find a job somewhere else. Well, that may have been true it was hurtful to hear.
I was done.
Shortly before the Christmas season I decided enough was enough.
I tried to turn in a two week notice but was pulled aside on the floor in front of everyone while the store manager explained to me that I was teaching my sons how to be quitters and that I should set a better example for my children.
Seriously? She went there?
Done. I left my job that day and did not return. That same store manager left messages on my answering machine at home telling me what a disappointment I was as an employee. My children had to hear this.
Self respect, dignity, and ethical dealings with other people are far more important to me than the bottom line of sales. The praise for sneaky behavior, underhandedness — while good, hard-working honest people were ridiculed — true, I am not cut out for this type of work.
I have learned that I I’m not a shark. That is okay.
And that, I am happy to teach my children.
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Christina Ward is an accomplished poet, aspiring author, and columnist for the Observer News Enterprise newspaper. She earned her Bachelor of Science from Catawba College in Environmental Science which greatly influences her work. She also studied creative writing and English at Catawba. Her poetry has been published in the Cameo print literary magazine, the Arrowhead print literary magazine, Vita Brevis Poetry Magazine, and in Wolff Poetry Literary Magazine.